• Add Review
  • Subscribe
  • Nominate
  • Submit Media
  • RSS

Solid framework that could've made for a masterpiece

  • NTC3
  • 01/05/2017 11:39 AM
  • 290 views
Note: this is the review of a completed 2015 version of the game. Some small issues might've been addressed in a patch since then.

Infection is a game that I’ve spotted early on, but had been on the fence about playing for quite a while. On one hand, zombies and the like remain the most over-saturated staple of modern pop culture, even if they don’t feature in rmk much besides the obligatory role of a rank enemy somewhere. On the other hand, it was still intriguing to see just what, if anything, Infection could’ve added to the genre. And so, I finally finished it a while ago, and I found that, somehow it largely works, mainly because of how consistently bleak it is. However, it is also closer to the middle of the pool relative to its subgenre, and could’ve been much better than it is.

Aesthetics (art, design and sound)



The one thing you immediately notice about Infection are its graphics. Title screen aside, everything is black-and-white grayscale. Even moments like seeing the custom (or at least, not-default) artwork of a sunrise are black-and-white, when you might’ve expected them to be in colour. This approach immediately works at setting the feeling of all-pervading bleakness. I didn’t even notice that mapping assets are RTP and the like until I was a while into the game, even though I saw basically the same lamp-posts and rubbish bins in games like Backstage and Sore Losers. The backgrounds are also RTP, and they look quite awesome in strict black-and-white. Some indoor backgrounds could’ve been better, I guess, and the way in-water sewer battles still use the same background as the dry land ones should also get fixed, but other than that, it’s good. Battlers apparently come from Persona or something, and while pretty good, there are really not enough of them for a supposed zombie apocalypse. Early on, you might well see the same Infected Girl or Infected Woman dozens of times, before the special varieties appear to break up the mix. Then, the facesets, are, unfortunately, a weak point, as they never seem to change much, and just plain don’t look that good. Poor Kessler got an especially short end of the stick:



The mapping also largely works. It does feel a little arbitrary with how many cars are strewn about almost randomly, to block your paths and force manoeuvres. Same is also true of the various boxes and crates, and how often they tend to show up, even in otherwise normal flats and such (some pushable, to put them into zombies’ path, some aren’t) . Since the setting is an open city map, Infection does try to ensure places you aren’t supposed to go to are solidly blocked off by the cars and other barricades, instead of simply arbitrarily stopping your character at the end of the clear street. However, these moments do show up, and there’s a rather bad one in one of the sewers, where you are allowed to slow-walk (extra slow-walk, since you’re in water) through it to the end, only to find out there’s nothing there, and then trudge back: simply stopping Jonathan there with the words “There’s no need to go that far” or something like it would’ve worked just fine. There’s an even worse moment in a dream-flashback, where Jonathan is in the middle of an open, snowy field, yet can only move straight ahead, because it’s apparently more dramatic that way.

Soundtrack is minimalist electronics. It also feels rather limited: the area theme that’s used practically everywhere is also the main theme, and while the combat track is really creepy, it’s also used everywhere, even during the boss battles, which reduces the impact of the latter. All the default menu sounds are disabled, which helps with atmosphere a lot, though using hard blow sounds (i.e. Blue Marble) or the like might also have worked. Sometimes, though, I feel the game could’ve still benefited with more sound effects: I would advise InfectionFiles to experiment with the footstep sounds to see if they’ll fit, as well as trying to have the Infected Dogs bark/growl, whether during battles, while they wander around, or both, and add some buzzing sound to the Bloatfly Swarms, which ought to make them downright terrifying.

Storyline

Unfortunately, Infection is not an RMN’s pre-emptive answer to The Last Of Us, as much as we might have all wanted it to be. Even so, it begins promisingly, with a touching black-and-white still (save for the falling snow) of a newlywed couple. The scrolling text lets us know it’s Anchor Point, Alaska, five years earlier, and then lets you read all the promises made at the wedding by our protagonist, Jonathan to his bride, Natalya, and then his regret at how everything had turned out. I even hoped that perhaps, we might actually stay in Alaska for once. Unfortunately, we are then thrown forward to “A few weeks after the infection” in (sigh) New York, the most frequent location in fiction over the last 200 years or so (though London will probably still beat it on a longer timeframe). It’s not necessary for anything in the storyline, and there aren’t exactly any landmarks (see Aesthetics): from its looks, it could’ve been any First World city with a subway in it. In fact, everything would’ve been much improved by being set in a non-American city, as then the almost complete lack of firearms would actually be realistic, while here it’s pretty bullshit.



Anyway, protagonist is Jonathan and the present-day narrative begins with him and a woman, Michelle, escaping from their apartment after the building had caught on fire during someone else shoot-out. Yes, if you paid attention to the text scroll, you’ll notice that she is not the woman he married, which should, in theory, have provided some intrigue. However, that’s not really the case. We get the aforementioned dream-flashback where we learn Natalya had gone infected and he had to kill her, before we’re left to relive the fight, but other than that, it’s not used for anything, and it really doesn’t affect his relationship with Michelle in any of the ways you could’ve expected. Michelle herself is practically the definition of a satellite character: I don’t really think we ever learn what family, if any, she had, what are her interests, or what she used to do before the apocalypse happened and she met Jonathan. There’s still some dialogue about them being in love and stuff, but it’s rather bland and easily forgettable, especially without these details. The occasional dialogue about the value of the little things in life is almost refreshingly low-key in comparison to the overblown lines so many other games go for, but doesn’t really change the weather.

Throughout the game, the only particularly important plot turns (besides the aforementioned dream-flashback) are the time when you meet a (non-infected) dog, and the time you encounter a group of other survivors (one of whom, Kessler, is also apparently a protagonist of a prequel). The dog is found quite early, and Michelle names it Lucky. It’s a nice touch, and very useful in battles, but doesn’t really change anything story-wise. The survivors force Jonathan to go alone to fetch supplies from a corner store at one point, holding Michelle hostage to ensure compliance: once he’s done they let them go and nothing much changes again. In fact, the exchanges with Kessler and co. are especially inert, the lot of them just saying obvious questions and receiving expected answers. All the dialogues from there until the ending are just bland, expected stuff. “You know the difference between these people and the two of us? We fight for something much more than simply surviving this.” Etc. etc. etc. It all cuts close to typical zombie media clichés, yet doesn’t really pretend they’re original, or tries to milk them for drama, and so instead of annoying you, they just fall flat. The ending, as it is, is also not really there: Jonathan and Michelle just reach the bridge to the outskirts of the city, a boss Infected charges them, and after defeating it, they leave the city and the game ends.

Given the low prominence of the storyline, as well as its short running time, I think the game could’ve worked a lot better if it incorporated non-linearity much like A Blurred Line did. If open-yet-inaccessible streets I mentioned earlier weren’t blocked off, but instead simply let you go in a different direction, encountering different people and doing different things, it would’ve immediately made everything a lot more interesting. That way, you could’ve not only gotten different dialogue between the duo and different character development, but also have gotten to learn more as to what had happened and how it could’ve been solved in each section, and with each alternate ending. Make things even more complex and allow storylines to diverge further by giving players a choice to stay with Kessler’s group, and similar choices if they go to different sections of the city, and Infection might’ve well managed to do something truly unique in this field and stand as great, bite-sized JRPG equivalent to Dead State.

More work on the lore would’ve also helped it in getting there. Sure, making the apocalypse halfway plausible is something that takes a bit of work, but it’s not really insurmountable. As it is, the only bit of actual lore are the 2-3 Newspapers you can find, whose item description are the headlines like “Infections spreads across United States” or “White House Abandoned”. Actually letting us read them, with images shown for the front pages, would’ve been good. Same goes for the missing person boards you can come across in the subway stations. Other than that, adding some diaries and such into the flats and other buildings we can search would’ve been very helpful. In fact, the most affecting story moment is the time you’re in a flat, and can knock on a door locked from the inside, asking if anyone is there. Either there’s no answer, or you hear a soft murmur/shuffling sound, which somehow manages to unsettle in spite of you probably already ending dozens of zombies by that point.

Now, as usual in my reviews, here are some spelling errors for the developer to fix (assuming they haven’t already been fixed in the latest version):
Natlaya
Clam down
Recieve Shotgun Shell
Percise cut to the artery (Surgical Strike)
Were here instead of we’re here (during the ending sequence).


Gameplay

As surprising as it is, the combat really does carry over the feeling of all-pervading bleakness. It’s not particularly complex, but it’s not a pure spacebar-mash, either. Jonathan and Michelle both start with two skills, the Adrenaline attack buff and Break Free skill that removes the Grappled condition. Regular Infected (Man, Woman, Girl) in your way will attack normally, and occasionally Grapple, which doesn’t fully stop a character, but still impacts them adversely in many ways until they break out (which also heals back the health they lost from initial grappling). More important is the way any attack Infected land has a chance to give you Diseased condition, which is basically equivalent to Poison, and which can only be cured by First Aid Kits (so rare, it’s not even worth to mention them) or outside of combat, with Clean Wounds skill. Other than said First Aid Kits, you cannot heal during combat either; the various food supplies only work outside of it. There’s no MP, and so you can technically use the skills as often as you want. However, battles are also permanent ATB, and so there’s always the temptation to just press space, save a few seconds, and hope for the best. As you play more, you might well find even yourself targeting female/child Infected first because they have less health. Of course, you don’t know that for sure, and it could just be that it feels like it during combat, which is disturbing in its own right and gives an unexpected pause for self-reflection.



Encounters themselves are all touch-based, though once the encounter occurs, escaping is impossible: if you think you’ve misjudged the odds, that’s what the ability to save at any time is for. The damage you receive is then healed back through consuming the various food supplies, and there’s a good range of them, too, from Canned Ham and Sardines, to Dog Food, M.R.E and even a Bottle of Rain Water. They never heal a lot; M.R.E. and regular Water Bottles are the most powerful, yet still only restore 30 HP, when the initial health is 210 and 190, and so fighting often will chew through all the supplies fast, forcing careful moderation, and trying to pick off the weaker encounters while leaving the larger ones alone. All the foodstuffs and the like are also found entirely through exploring the environments, and zombies generally drop nothing. That makes sense, since immunity or not, you probably wouldn’t want to take anything from an Infected body anyway. The complete lack of money is a little disappointing, though. I think being able to receive/loot some cash would’ve been good, purely as a way to comment on how worthless it has become. One disappointment to do with food items is how you find them in dumpsters and smaller rubbish bins way too often to be believable. It might be halfway plausible for the tins of food or blunt weapons, but why would anyone throw out full water bottles or Pain Pills? It’s even weirder given that there are plenty of cars around (see Aesthetics) none of which can be checked for some reason. To me, it would be cool if a lot of the loot was moved from the dumpsters/bins to cars, while some of the free cars/dumpsters could also have hidden Infected waiting to pounce when you check them. There’s only one ambush like that in the game, and it would’ve been cool to see more.

Then, there are plenty of melee weapons that are quite appropriate for the genre, like a Lawn Mover Blade, Tire Iron, Butcher Knife, Baseball Bat, Hockey Stick, etc. Most weapons are light ones that can be wielded in both hands, and besides the pure attack might, they also differ by accuracy (70% to 90% hit rates) and the status effect they inflict (either Fracture or Bleeding). Clothing is rarer, but it’s actually sex-specific for once (so far, only Alter Aila had that out of the games I've played), as Green Sweater and Diamond Necklace can only be worn by Michelle. It did lead to one awkward moment, though, when I found the Diamond Necklace in the sewer, having to fight through two Bloatfly Swarms to get to it, only to discover another one in a swimming pool later, utterly useless since Jonathan obviously cannot wear them. You can also increase stats by 1 through reading magazines like Combat Zone (Strength) or Fitness and Health (Agility). Weirdly, it’s one-use, and you’re somehow not capable of sharing it between the two. You also get a gun near the very end, to help you out during the boss fight: I didn’t really understand how to use it until I checked Survival menu again, to see that equipping it gives the Single Shot skill. Before that, there are the helpful Makeshift Molotovs, which can be a real lifesaver during earlier fights. You mainly find them complete; given how many cars there are around, it would be better if they needed to be crafted by taking an empty bottle (either looted, or left over from drinking Water/Rainwater Bottles) , a rag (probably looted from Infected and/or the currently useless non-Infected corpses), and then approaching a car from the rear to drain petrol into the bottle and finish your contraption.

This whole dynamic undergoes a couple of important changes throughout the game. The first is the introduction of upgraded Infected varieties. Refreshingly, it’s not the body horror mutant types here, but something more down-to-earth, starting from the Infected Dogs. Besides their high Evasion, they also move faster and so are a lot more difficult to dodge on-map. By about that point, a lot of zombie groups also stop shuffling about randomly, and begin to move faster and chase after you. On the whole, my favourite enemy are still the Bloatfly Swarms: it’s just quite horrific to attack this seemingly limitless mass of insects (one that’s also immune to Bleeding and other effects, for obvious reasons) in the hope it finally dissipates. However, the Infected Cops (can accidentally shoot bullets from their firearm with the Dead Man’s Grip skill) and Viral Patients (can drain blood to heal themselves slightly and make everyone Diseased) are also close. The second, positive change is when Michelle gains the healing Tend Wounds skill. With it, you can potentially come out of battles with more health than you had when walking into them. Oddly, though, this doesn’t break the game, as you’ll likely have around a third or so health by the time you discover this, and the couple dozen HP you can gain in one encounter can be easily wiped away in another, more difficult one: be it an Infected Cop shooting a little more than usual, or zombies managing to get you both Diseased early on, there’s enough unpredictability to keep things interesting, and to make full health unattainable without supplies. On the whole, it’s just a welcome change of dynamic when instead of avoiding most zombies around, quick-loading whenever you got into an encounter that seemed too strong and dreading for the supply count, you can finally begin hunting them down one by one, knowing you have the chance to win this without relying on dwindling supplies to get you through. I might've had gone a little overboard with this after I essentially went back to the starting area and slaughtered every zombie to be found on the streets, but oh well.

Lastly, there are some occasional changes to gameplay. One of them is a sequence when Jonathan is sent alone to the corner store: since fighting alone against zombie groups would’ve been nigh-impossible, you instead get a QTE sequence that’s activated whenever you cross paths with one. I swore when I saw it at first, and yet it actually turned out easier than fighting regularly, since winning doesn’t cost you any health, and losing still knocks a group back and only costs 20 HP out of 100, so you can lose up to four times without dying, or suffering ill consequences once you return. Then, the other differing element is a lockpicking minigame that needs to be passed in order to leave through the locked park gates. It is very easy, as you only need to wiggle each bolt one up and down a bit until you hear the clicking sound telling you it’s in place. There’s an arbitrary 30 second time limit that breaks the lock if you run out, but you’ll almost certainly save before lockpicking, so that doesn’t really matter. Fey had similar mechanic, though here it’s a little better, since you’re at least shown a graphic of the lock instead of simple numbers on the black screen. Still, it’s largely unsatisfying, and I would probably suggest experimenting with removing the “bolt in place” sound and the time limit, so that it’s purely about being able to match the two halves perfectly. Then, it ought to be sufficiently interesting to include more than once, as there are some other parts where you seem to find locked gates and doors, and it having the choice to unlock them would’ve made the game more engaging.

Conclusion

Infection is a very solid game about a very overdone theme, and one that could’ve been a lot better than what we got. It’s still worth playing if you are not entirely sick of zombies, and if you don’t expect substantial storytelling to back up the gameplay.

Posts

Pages: 1
InfectionFiles
the world ends in whatever my makerscore currently is
3744
Wow, what a good read. Thank you so much for this in-depth review. :)

I would address or try to answer some things but it's something I've been over so many times lol
This review is very fair and I agree with all its shortcomings and flaws. Something I finally accepted awhile back. As this game was to be my magnum opus I had so much more planned for it and things I wanted to see brought more to life. The sad truth is that this was based off of like 3 previous versions and my first real leap into game making. So after it was started in late 2008/2009, five years later and some of that fire was gone as I wanted to move on from the project instead of forever toiling away in it and never "finishing" it. Which is why at some point it was cut shorter and is what it is today.

But as always when a review or comment/message is given it gets my maker bone itching to go back and make this better or at least improve certain aspects. I know I will never go back and add story but I always wanted to go back and help the immersesion and setting if anything to overpower the lack of a story or decent writing.

lol and here I am talking about it again! This game was baby and I'm glad you enjoyed it mostly and saw a good deal of the vision I had for it.

Thank you again, NTC3! :)
Professor_Q
"I think it's about forgiveness..."
3212
Good review. I really should try this game now! ^_^
InfectionFiles
the world ends in whatever my makerscore currently is
3744
author=Professor_Q
Good review. I really should try this game now! ^_^

I agree on both! :D
I'm glad you both liked it! :)
Pages: 1